The Enmity Between My Life and Schedules

I’m in a weird position, temporally. In a perpetual state of retardation. Always late, always behind, always off-schedule. It’s increasingly ironic, given how much I like making plans and creating timelines and putting things on calendars. Yet, nearly nothing goes according to plan. Therefore, I am inclined to stop planning altogether.

I’ve given up on schedules. They just never seem to work, or to be useful to me in any ways other than showing me how much I fail to keep up with them. It seems to me like the second I put a date down on some task, it becomes practically guaranteed that I will not do whatever I’d planned to do by that time, by that time.

Time is this strange, relentlessly consistent thing whose nature doesn’t seem pliable, even in science fiction. (Think about it: time holds the same unwavering nature it has always held, and it’s quite often people who travel through it. Events change; people change; people change events; I’ve never seen anyone change the nature of time itself.) By contrast, I am this strange, relentlessly inconsistent thing who is swayed unpredictably by any element of existence.

A huge contributing factor to my general sense of being off-schedule is the fact that, this past semester, I took time off school and stayed home in Accra. In the grand scheme of things, one semester—five months—is really not that big of a deal. But because it has been my present, it has felt colossal. It doesn’t help that there are conundrums involved. For example, I don’t think anyone is clear on whether I am now classified as a senior or a junior, when I am meant to write my thesis, or whether I am allowed to take the senior seminar. These are all relatively minor problems which nevertheless make me feel like I committed a gross error in throwing my academic life off by five months. Don’t get me started on how it will feel, a year from now, to watch my classmates graduate and leave me.

Then there’s work—which accounts for my specific sense of being off-schedule. Six months ago, I agreed to a commissioned project that I figured I’d be done with by the end of January. Due to a seemingly endless set of factors, this did not happen. So then I decided to redesign my plan to something far more reasonable. According to the new plan, I would be done with the project by February. That did not happen. But by the beginning of April, I was so close to done that I was convinced I would be though with it by the end of the month—with a few days to spare, even. I’m writing this on the 9th day of May. I am so close to done, theoretically; but in temporal terms, I have learnt that this means absolutely nothing. (P.S. I am editing this document on 29th May, and I am still so close to done but not done. No surprise, just bored exhaustion.)

My non-commissioned, self-inflicted writing projects are making me suffer similarly. I suppose that’s not as much of a big deal, since no one’s paying me for it or actively waiting for any deliverables. You would think that would have me relaxing a bit, but my brain is incredibly stubborn. When I go too long without finishing something—or at least making tangible headway with it, I get extremely agitated. And when I do finish something, I get high. The high fades relatively quickly, though, and then I have to get right on to trying to finish something else. But I’ve been working on such large projects lately that finishing anytime soon seems like an outright fantasy. Attached to the idea of unfinished work is a sense of lack of accomplishment in life. That’s always fun.

Another thing that seems to be taking far too long is my healing process. I’ve been in therapy for almost five months, medication for about as long. I do feel and do life much better than I did five months ago, but either I expected or simply wish my healing process would be faster. I’m certainly bored right now, mostly of just being in the same place, because I do tend to get bored with my environments easily. So on a geographical level, I’m quite ready to go back to college. Mentally, though? I don’t know. College is so structured, full of timetables, deadlines, and schedules—and as I have spent several hundreds of words just articulating, temporal rules and I are simply not friends. I don’t know how I’m going to hold up structurally once returned to an academic setting. As for learning, I feel I will always love it. (While I’m easily bored, I’m also easily fascinated.) Being constricted by time, however? I go fit lose my damn mind.

I’m not writing this because I want advice or encouragement or anything like that. I kind of just want people (and the abstract concept of time) to leave me alone. (Which I know is not going to happen. So I suppose I’ve compensated by giving up and trying to leave myself alone.) I feel agitated whenever I’m asked for updates, especially when I don’t have anything deliverable ready. I’m tired of the pressure I feel to explain why the hell I don’t have things ready by the times that people—including myself—assume that I should have. Not only am I unable to explain, but I don’t even want to bother trying.

People are often inclined to offer encouragement along the lines of “Who says these rules are set in stone anyway? Who says you have to achieve this thing by this time, and who is going to kill you if you don’t? We’re all different, we don’t all go at the same place.”

On one hand, such advice is useful and appropriate, for instance, in cases such as graduation. Who cares if I graduate “on time”? What’s “on time” anyway? In 10 more years, I’ll be walking around with my degree, and presumably nobody is going to give a damn whether I completed the degree requirements in the spring or in the fall semester. Granted. I accept.

On the other hand, such advice is almost entirely worthless. Being able to deliver things on time is pretty much an essential qualification for survival in the capitalistic working world. The head of a journalism department doesn’t say to the journalist, “I know you tried your best to make the Evening News deadline, but don’t worry, that’s okay, you can just turn your report in at 7 a.m. tomorrow. Oh, you’re blacked out mentally all week? That’s okay, you can have another month to finish up that one 500-word article that was due for last night’s evening news.” My erraticism considered, I often feel like I am entirely unsuitable for work in this century, in this era, even in the profession I’ve told myself I want to be a full-time member of. This scares me a great deal.

End rant.

-Akotowaa

Self-Care: The Thing I Wish Was A Myth (But It Really, Really Isn’t).

In January of 2018, I was experiencing heartache—but I can’t remember what for. I do remember being freshly back on campus after the Christmas break and crying so hard in my dorm room that my chest physically started to hurt. It was bizarre and alarming. Someone online told me they had experienced a similar sensation and had had to get their heart physically checked.

I remember thinking, if heartbreak were to leave the realm of the purely metaphorical, this is what it would feel like. In that moment, I felt in danger of dying alone in my room if my heart suddenly gave out—and I panicked. I had such limited communication with nearly everyone in my life. I often immersed myself in isolation. I had no roommate. Who would know if there was an emergency? Who would care? And who would help?

As whatever I was suffering heartache from refused to subside and the physical chest pains continued, I decided it was time for a physical check-up. I hadn’t had one in a while and I just wanted to make sure nothing else strange was happening with my body. The doctors told me that physically, I really was mostly fine.

Emotions—like heartbreak and sadness—aren’t the only things that manifest physically for me. My anxiety does as well—and I often get anxious about the most miniscule things. Like replying texts or waiting for people I’m supposed to be meeting. My body will tense up and it will feel like all my muscles are clenched. My heart rate will speed up, I may start sweating. But it’s essentially the muscles that suffer the brunt of the mess. My shoulders, arms, chest. Tense as tightened ropes. It exhausts my body in a tangible way, no matter how psychological my anxiety itself may be. It’s terrifying.

I thought no year could be worse for my mental health than 2016, but 2018 proved to me that I don’t have to die just to visit hell. I have never, never wanted to kill myself as much as I have between those twelve months, and I’ve never tried to hurt myself as deliberately as I have within this time either. It’s felt like pain after trauma after heartbreak after pain. Everything has been more complicated than it ever was before.

In the middle of the year, I started experiencing sensations in my head that I couldn’t explain. It often felt like my head had lost balance and that my nerves were malfunctioning so I couldn’t lie, sit or stand still; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t concentrate on any task. I don’t know what a stroke feels like, but I was convinced I was about to have one. I panicked every time my parents left me at home alone and my brother wasn’t around. If I had a medical emergency, who would help? And why couldn’t anything logically explain what was happening in my head?

My mother took me to get a far-too-expensive series of thorough medical checkups. Aside slight anaemia, there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. This was becoming a pattern; me being convinced I was about to die, and then proof arising that there was “nothing wrong with me.”

On Monday, 24th December 2018, I had a long day where events seemed particularly designed to trigger my anxiety and irritation. I had maxed myself out during the weekend as well, attending way too many events and having my introvert self be constantly surrounded by people—almost always an anxiety-inducing phenomenon for me. Both at home (you know how Christmas time is with African families and how it is when your house is the host venue for festivities) and out of the house. So, on Monday, after several things that were supposed to go according to plan did not, I just broke.

It was chest pains again. Dull but deep. And persistent. That night, when the pains started, I thought I was going to die, again. I felt like I was suffocating, but nothing seemed to be evidently suffocating me. Slight movements seemed to trigger chest pangs. I went to bed in pain, in too awful of a mental state to even browse myself to sleep with my phone. The pain didn’t relent. I wondered if I’d wake up the next morning. If I did wake up, though, I expected that the pain would have faded.

I woke up the next morning and the pain was the same. Aside the chest aches, there was pain throughout my back, from my neck to my lower back. Then I developed a migraine which, despite frequent doses of painkillers, refused to completely vanish for about four days.

I was incapacitated, nearly bedridden, under a body-imposed house arrest for several days, and by the third day, it was already clear to me that my physical breakdown was a result of not having taken care of myself. Throughout the year, everything that had stressed me out, whether psychological or physical, I had essentially pushed aside after it happened, tried to ignore and forget my pain rather than heal it. I’d tried to proceed with my life as normally as I possibly could with the pain in the background.

At the end of the worst year of my life, my body was having no more nonsense. It was as if it was saying to me: You don’t even have to try committing suicide, sis, I’ll kill you on your mind’s behalf.

My mother, worried, got my uncle, who is a heart surgeon, to carry out a cardiac ultrasound on me just in case. Yup, you guessed it—nothing wrong with my damn heart. My uncle’s hypothesis was that the ache was from my muscles, not my organ. That wasn’t hard to believe at all. I knew my muscles stored stress. It wasn’t surprising that at least twelve months of stored stress was now trying to take me out.

 

I’ve been thinking about self-care lately. Until very recently, nearly every time I have read the term, it has been with a tone of disdain. I considered it that thing which those Instagrammers with pristine and minimalistic photo-grids are always on about. And the poets whose micro-poetry posts get thousands of likes. And the life coach-ish people whose professional skill sets I’m never quite certain about. An empty phrase that sounds nice but means nothing. I thought of “self-care” as a myth. I wish it was a myth. I know (now) that it is not.

Self-care, in my opinion, is not done justice by the definition of “taking care of yourself.” Unless the last word in there is italicized: taking care of yourself. That involves developing a deep understanding of yourself and acting accordingly, in the way that best keeps you, as an individual, healthy. You can’t get anywhere useful if you try caring for yourself without understanding yourself, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you understand yourself and refuse to care for yourself accordingly. The latter is something I’m guiltier of than anyone else I know.

selfcare1

I recently wrote about My Faith + My Body, the anger I feel towards my body for being “badly designed”; the flaws within which keep me from being able to function at others’ capacities, whether it’s because of my photosensitivity, easy fatigue, chronic migraine, or whatever. Even though I long ago acknowledged that this is how my body works, I kept berating myself for not being able to keep up with the world, with other people, and with my own life. When so many others around me are doing much more than me, so much more efficiently and tirelessly, it’s nearly impossible not to see myself as inferior because I’m designed differently.

In reaction to the sense of inferiority, I tend to deliberately ignore my design and attribute everything “wrong with me” to laziness and indiscipline. Then I put more on my plate than I can handle—even as the world has already handed me a very full one—and then I try to operate at a pace and capacity I was never meant to. How can I not crash, then, mentally and physically? I’m not a superhero and I can’t do everything. I can’t even do what the average person can do.

My body’s design isn’t the only thing I handle badly. I wrote in On Suffering about how I’ve punished myself for the state of my mental health. I’ve written in How Do You Want to Be Loved? about how I’ve allowed disasters in my personal relationships to pile up and affect me brutally. I’ve written in There Is No Prototype on how I’ve embarrassed myself through a refusal to acknowledge my own uniqueness. It is this same kind of refusal that has landed me in these quasi-medical emergencies throughout the year.

I am slow with many things. I often berate myself for it even though I know—have even put the line in a poem once—that slow is not equal to stupid. Slow is an adjective, not a value judgment, and I wish I would start acting like I believe it, because I know that as of now, “SLOW” is the way my life demands to be lived.

Self-care through knowledge of self is important to me because it’s the only way I’ll recognize how to reject generic advice. I tend to ignore the way my specific body, mind and emotions work in favor of the lie that if I only work hard and/or train at XYZ pace recommended by the internet/some person who doesn’t know how my body/mind works, I’ll reach where someone else has reached. (When the actual fact is, if I follow the unspecialized advice I’m recommended, I might die.) No doubt a different person, when given the very same advice, may follow it and thrive. (Make no mistake, this makes me angry. I want to be able to thrive the “normal” way.) But trying to keep up with everyone and everything is what lands me in the kinds of medical conundrums described above.

I want and am slowly trying to commit to caring for myself in the specific ways my mind, body and emotions demand to be cared for. I recognize and fear that one of the hardest parts of my journey is going to struggling with other people not understanding my lifestyle choices or the motives behind them. If I listen to my body and stay at home when all my friends are going out, how would this affect my relationships with them? Will they never extend their invitations again? Will they begin to consider me the kind of friend they can only text but never hang out with in person? Will they harbor secret thoughts that I hate them? If I take three days to respond to texts, will they get anxious that they’ve said something wrong? Or get fed up and simply quit texting me? When I deactivate from all the platforms on which I’m usually reachable, will they think I intentionally tried to cut them off? If I stay at home for days on end, will my parents think I’m lazy? If I go half a week without seeing my grandparents, will I receive a lecture for being intentionally rude?

The list of questions that trap me in fear goes on. They’re also not purely hypothetical; nearly every single one of them has happened before. Such sentiments already have been expressed by the people in my life, and I wasn’t even trying to take care of myself at those times.

Being a human being with my specific design is difficult. But if I’m determined to keep myself alive, if I truly believe in Life Over Everything, there are storms I will have to brave. I’m not looking forward to it. I wish my self-care practice didn’t have to be as complicated as situations currently demand—but I simply can’t see a way around it. On a day-to-day basis, I’m constantly having to check in with myself, to intake or eliminate substances from my body, to regulate phone, screen and internet usage, monitor sleep and socialization, exercise, take time off from school, see therapists and doctors regularly, do all these self-care practices that I’ve usually neglected, just so I don’t die.

I haven’t yet reached the point where I am not resentful that I have to take much more pronounced self-care measures than most people I know (I just want to be normal, for God’s sake!), but I hope I get there soon. I hope I get there soon.

-Akotowaa

“Do You Want To Talk About It?”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

No, person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not. You know why? Because we are oversharers already. It feels like we have spent all our lives ranting and ranting and ranting to people physically and virtually, in private and in public, spilling all our thoughts and emotions into cyberspace and air particles…and all for what?

What can we tell you that we haven’t told the whole world already? What can you tell us back that the five hundred and sixty-three people before you have not? I tell you, we have spent ridiculous amounts of time “talking about it,” and guess what: we are the same. Why? First of all, because all talking does is burn our already rapidly-dissipating energy, and secondly, because we have remained in the same state ever since about person number ten. Stupid us, that it’s taken over five hundred people after that to realize that our speech is only draining us of everything we are made of, and that if we keep it up, we may not survive. So no, we do not “want to talk about it.”

For all the energy we lose, what do you gain? The opportunity to rant back to us about your own struggles? Did you only ask us to release because you wanted to? Do you gain the comfort of knowing that someone’s life or mind is in a worse state than yours? Is there pride, do you feel special because someone opened up to you? After we unlock our soul’s doors and give you a tour of our most intimate parts, will you walk away with a souvenir that says, “I was here, I expended your energy, and I went”? And what do we walk away with? Another signature in our mental guest book, and the parting thought, “Thanks for visiting. I remain a mess.”

We know some of you love us. We know some of you care about us. But do you know, for instance, that some of you care about us in the wrong ways, and that some of you can’t care about us enough? Understand. We have had five hundred and sixty-three visitors into our damage already, and we got over the “Wow, someone is actually here to listen” type of gratitude ages ago, yet it seems no one quite understands how far gone we are, how exhausted we are, how replying messages feels more tiring than a decathlon, how we are absolutely done with people taking and taking and taking from us while we ourselves have neither capacity nor strength to take a damn thing back from the world or even from you.

May no soul ask why our responses to “How are you?” are blasé and impersonal statements like “I’m alive.”

May no soul ask us for further expansion when we answer their questions with a smiley face emoji.

May each soul disabuse itself of entitlement to be opened up to about any intimate matter.

Our energy is not anyone else’s to decide how it should be managed. We will protect our energy and we will shut down if that is the only way we can stop ourselves from dying. So no, dear person number five hundred and sixty-four, we do not “want to talk about it.”

-Akotowaa

P.S. I struggled a lot to decide to post it, because I keep fighting the urge to apologize for my emotion. But apologizing or toning down more than I already have feels like dishonesty. I still feel bad though. That’s why I dey explain kraa.

Summer ’17 Lessons/Lowlights :(

Yo. Life is hard. (Definitely not the first time I’m opening a blog post with this. Maybe I should make this my official sign-in. Sigh.)

This summer, I made what I truly consider one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I’m so used to my stress being an effect of circumstances I couldn’t necessarily control, effects of “the system.” As for this time, it was my decision that I made, although I hesitate to call myself an idiot for it, since there were certain things I don’t believe I could have foreseen. But yo. I have been stressed.

This awful decision was about my summer housing situation. Kids, y’all better learn from this.

So my college actually offers rooms to live in over the summer. But at the end of the last semester, everything about and around me was such a mess that I and my summer employers ended up missing the deadline for applying for a summer room. While my employers tried bargaining with the director of housing on my behalf, and him declaring he could make no promises yet, but would open up available rooms if there were any left when he was done doing his job, I was left to look for alternative options.

It turns out I had a colleague – not a friend per se, but an acquaintance from work – looking for roommates to temporarily live in a truly gorgeous seeming house belonging to a professor who was leaving for a while. Now, you see, I hate making decisions, especially when they involve deadlines and money, so this stressed me out significantly. The house was gorgeous yet more expensive – but guaranteed if I took action immediately. The college was familiar and somewhat boring for that fact, far less expensive, yet not guaranteed. And if I didn’t get it, as a consequence of not having taken immediate action, I would have nowhere else to go.

As is predictable of me, I moved towards the certain, immediate action, as opposed to the uncertain wait. I began to rationalize all my reasons to make me feel better:

  • It was a house off campus, and it would be refreshing to be at least temporarily removed from monotonous scenery
  • It had a kitchen. Several dorms on campus did not – besides, there would be fewer people sharing it.
  • It had a pool! How cool would it be to have access to a pool during a hot California summer?
  • It had air conditioning! Very few campus dorms did, and I’d heard several stories of students having to sleep in their workplaces or academic buildings to avoid melting in their beds at night.

Yeah. So I was thinking that with all these perks, surely it would be worth the extra money? LOL. No. (And listen, I am not trying to throw shade at anyone. I know how easily sharing my stories tends to get me in trouble, but I swear I’m not trying to throw shade.)

Honestly, I should have known better. There are facts about myself I deliberately ignored that came back to bite me in the back, front, top, bottom and all damn sides. Fam, I am an introvert. I don’t like living with people. I don’t like necessarily shared spaces. I don’t like dirt. However, when space must be shared, I like it when everyone actually acts responsible for their share. And, despite my distaste for shares paces, I do have the background and upbringing that makes me extremely uncomfortable with dirt or ugly mess. (Thanks, Mummy.) So, if the sink is dirty, I want it clean so much that I will clean it. Same with the shower, the trash can, the stove, the dishes in the sink…But Lord above, I am not a housemaid.

This was the summer that I realized that college kids really are kids. Like, kids. I mean, I kind of knew. Last semester, one of the (I assume because it makes sense) boys just kept leaving the toilet seat sprayed with urine like his hands spasmed every time he tried to pee, and also would hardly flush the toilet. And because I’m extra, I put a note on the stall door warning them I’d curse them with Ewe witchcraft if it continued. (No, I am not joking; I swear I’m not. Ask Tronomie, I sent him a picture of the note.) But what makes the difference once you live on campus is that every two or three days, housekeeping staff comes and resets the bathrooms (and kitchens) to default. If they did not exist, I am certain the state of campus facilities would have been as awful or worse than they were in that house this summer.

In summary, between the health-hazard-like state of the kitchen and a cat trying to jump into my tomatoes whenever I was trying to cook, between empty contact lens packets all over the bathroom floor and around the sink, wet clothes in the shower constantly, people I didn’t know always being present when least expected, random multi-instrumental jam sessions, a mosquito-ridden backyard, clothing items at the bottom of the pool, an unsightly pile of trash growing, AC time having to be conserved for the sake of the electricity bill et cetera…Yeah bro, I had to leave. None of it was worth anything.

Let me make this clear: in no way do I think the people I lived with were “bad people.” What they were, though, is different from me. And different people can be comfortable with different kinds of living spaces. And from what I saw, it seemed like I was the only unbearably uncomfortable one. I shall not dare to make the claim that any one of them should not have been living there; it was I who was the odd one out. As usual. It’s not our fault we were raised differently. So, yes, I had to leave.

I postponed it for so long because of guilt and financial responsibility. The situation was such that if one person’s contribution was detracted, the debt would be way higher than it already was – which was, apparently, already bad enough. And I had already been granted a significant discount on what I was paying, so it just didn’t seem fair. But most importantly, what was really trapping me was the lease that I’d signed.

Fortunately, I found out that my summer campus room was still being held for me by some sort of fortunate accident, and I would be able to move back if I wanted. But I was thinking I could be strong, stay uncomfortable in the house until summer ended. After all, several people have been through worse in life, haven’t they? But my resolve cracked in about a week, LMAO. It was making zero sense that I was putting my sanity through a destructive process when there was clearly a way out. The opportunity cost was the money. I found myself soon crying to my mother on the phone. My parents encouraged me to prioritize my mental health. And so, facing the loss of more money than I had ever lost in my life, and feeling like the most naïve, irresponsible fool for it, I moved back to campus, trying not to give two pesewas about anyone’s hurt feelings.

There were numerous, stressful failed attempts to get someone to take over my room or raise enough money to pay my debt. In the end, God came through and delivered me from financial hardship in semi-random, stunning ways (I swear, prayer works, y’all) and my quality of life generally improved at least threefold when I was living on campus again. But it doesn’t change the fact that this was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn in my life about decisions, responsibility, prayer, boldness and tolerance.

 

Anyway, now that I’m done talking about that nightmare, a few other lessons:

  1. Dealing with hate. (Related: I Lost My Voice.)

I have learnt that I do not know how to do it. My best friends encourage me to ignore trolls and will go out of their way to list the ways the trolls are invalid. It’s still hard, though. I’m still bothered by things I can do nothing about. I can’t change the way people think. I can’t help that people will continuously read what they want to read and see what they want to see. And that’s depressing. And the best I can do is to keep reminding myself what my work is (definitely not fixing haters’ brains) and to keep doing my work no matter what, because that is what I am useful for, and that is how my purpose shall be fulfilled.

  1. I hate having to eat.

I think my least favorite part about classic adulting is just having to find food. Fam, food is expensive, cooking takes long, washing and cleaning takes longer, and even deciding what to eat at all is stress. (If you’ll remember, I intensely dislike making decisions.) Now I know why my mother has a weekly rotating schedule of what the family is having for dinner every night. It’s not now on The Day Of that you’re coming do decide. My mother is a smart woman. Anyway, why can’t I be a Twilight Vampire? I don’t freaking want eating to be a necessity. If food were a luxury that I could maybe get when I wanted or could afford, as opposed to being rendered irritable and dysfunctional without it, honestly, that would be the greatest.

  1. I seriously, seriously might die if life ever puts me in an 8-5/9-5 job.

Like, seriously.

This summer was the first time I’d ever experienced working full-time. And truly, I enjoyed the experience because the work was fun (or, more fun than a lot of work in a lot of places) and the people were good. Those didn’t stop me from getting bored, though. You would have thought working in a creativity/design center, surrounded by both artistic and STEM creatives would keep me entertained. But chale, the monotony of waking up every morning to go to the same building saf drained me so much. The work itself wasn’t strenuous, yet I found myself nearly non-functional during weekends, fully able to sleep for over ¾ of the day from some irrational type of exhaustion.

My God. I am such a restless spirit. If I must work for others to make a living, Lord Jesus, may I be a freelancer, or a traveler, or some sort of thing that neither requires me to be home all day or in some standard building all day. You made me this way, so You know that kind of life is not for me. So, sweet Jesus, do it for ya girl. Amen.

So yeah. Those are my lessons from the summer. =)

-Akotowaa